Mr Blackley’s dismissal to make way for Mr Murdoch, a Ten board member and nine per cent shareholder, was announced alongside company forecasts showing the television and outdoor advertising company expects a decline in earnings for the first half of its fiscal 2011.
This is despite strong growth in the television advertising market in recent times.
A board-led strategic review has been launched to look at the business.
Mr Blackley’s sudden exit comes a little over three months after Ten extended his contract for two years and the newly-expanded board expressed its confidence in him.
The Ten board decided to cut ties with Mr Blackley at a meeting on Wednesday, with all directors in attendance either in person or via phone.
Ten chairman Brian Long said Mr Murdoch agreed to become acting chief executive while a search was undertaken to fill the position permanently.
A pointer to the board’s disappointment with Mr Blackley’s performance could be seen in Ten’s earnings guidance for the half year, as well as Ten’s poor start to the ratings year.
Ten said earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) for the six months to February 28, 2011, was expected to be in the vicinity of $103 million, or 14 per cent lower than the prior corresponding period.
For the television business, Ten said EBITDA was forecast to slump 18 per cent to $92 million, compared with $109 million in the prior year, on a revenue increase of two per cent.
An analyst at media consultancy Fusion Strategy, Steve Allen, said the earnings guidance suggested Ten was struggling with revenue after a poor start to the ratings year.
“The numbers, in a booming market that is up double digits (growth), don’t look good for the last six months,” Mr Allen said.
Mr Murdoch took his seat on the Ten board alongside his friend James Packer after Mr Packer raided the company’s share register in October last year, gobbling up 18 per cent of the company. A month later, Mr Packer sold half his interest to Mr Murdoch.
While the pair have said little about their intentions regarding Ten, many have speculated that Mr Packer would like to close Ten’s all-sports digital channel ONE and abandon the extra hour of news and current affairs on the main channel between 6pm and 7pm.
“There’s absolutely no question that the news strategy thus far is a disaster,” Mr Allen said.
“There’s no question that from today the board will look at the costs for maybe changing the strategy.”
Independent media commentator Peter Cox said Mr Murdoch would be a chief executive with a lot to prove.
If you look at most of his ventures, they have so far been a very mixed bag of results, and that’s a polite way of saying it,”
Mr Cox said, referring to previous investments including in Funtastic, Destra, a team in the Indian Premier League and One Tel.
Mr Cox said Mr Murdoch’s stakes in regional television group Prime Media and radio operator DMG Radio Australia were businesses in mature industries that were “very hard to turn around”.
“With the great success of his sister (Elisabeth Murdoch) lately, I think it puts a lot of pressure on Lachlan to want to succeed here,” Mr Cox said.
“I’m sure he’s very ambitious to do well.”
It was announced this week Ms Murdoch would sell her stake in independent production company Shine to News Corporation, where Lachlan Murdoch’s father Rupert is chief executive, and join the global media giant’s board.
Ten closed down 4.5 cents, or 3.38 per cent, at $1.285 on Wednesday evening.